NHL keeping eye on OHL's new fighting rule

The NHL will be keeping a keen watch on a new fighting rule announced Wednesday by the Ontario Hockey League.

The OHL, starting this season, will target one-dimensional players who do nothing else, really, than fight. Any player who garners an 11th fighting major during the season will incur an automatic two-game suspension, as the OHL has created a threshold system to discourage serial fighters.

First, kudos to the OHL and longtime commissioner David Branch for having the courage to tackle an issue that divides hockey people like few other subjects.

Although with this initiative, Branch said it wasn’t divisive at all in the feedback he got from OHL governors, GMs and coaches.

"You know what, it was extremely positive and extremely supportive," Branch said on a media conference call Wednesday. "There’s always good discussion and good debate, but at the end of the day, there was unanimity. And I say that strongly."

Branch was in touch with Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior vice president and director of hockey operations, when the idea began to take form and during the process.

"They talk to us when they make rule changes like this," Campbell told ESPN.com Wednesday. "We’ve discussed the aspect of fighting over the years. We had a couple of initial discussions about this last spring. They were thinking about implementing some sort of quota. I mentioned to him we had debated that internally in hockey operations at the NHL level."

They have indeed. For years, Campbell and his staff in Toronto have chewed on the subject. The Rangers-Devils game last season, where three staged fights broke at the drop of the puck, was a black eye for the league and certainly caused some in-house deliberation at the NHL office. Fighting has been batted around at numerous NHL GM meetings over the years, but never to the point that there’s enough consensus to do anything tangible about it. You’re never going to convince Brian Burke anything needs to be done about fighting in the NHL, and he’s got lots of support from that side of the fence.

Fact is, fighting has gone down on its own in recent years; last season, there were 546 fights in 1,230 regular-season games, the lowest tally in five years, according to www.hockeyfights.com. The speed of the NHL has weeded out tough guys who aren't skilled at the game. So for many people, the thought is that the natural evolution of the NHL game is taking care of the issue.

Still, more and more GMs that we’ve talked to in recent years have changed their tune on this issue -- now leaning more toward the anti-fighting side (heck, I’ve changed my tune from my earlier years in the business).

And make no mistake, the NHL will keep a close eye on how the new OHL rule plays out this season.

"We’ll be watching closely," said Campbell. "It will be interesting to see how it works."

If you apply the OHL’s new criteria to the NHL last season, bearing in mind that OHL teams play 68 games and not 82 like NHL teams, the apples-to-apples comparison would be a 12-fight threshold for NHLers. Under that criteria, 12 NHL players had 13 fighting majors or more last season and would have faced discipline if this new OHL rule had applied.

But whether the rule ever sees the light of day in the NHL, it’s way too early to tell. For now, it’s an appropriate rule change for a junior league.

"This is not a bad step for a league to take, especially a league that has the disparity in age, 21-year-olds playing 16-year-olds," said Campbell.

I’m not espousing a total ban on fighting on the NHL. That’s too drastic. But any rule that can help curb needless fights by players who bring nothing else to the table is a good rule in my book.

OHL rule:

      1. If a player is assessed a fighting major for the 11th to 15th time during the regular season, such player is assessed an automatic two-game suspension for each additional fighting major in addition to any other penalties assessed.
      2. If a player is assessed a fighting major for the 16th time or more during the regular season, such player is assessed an automatic two-game suspension and the hockey club is fined $1,000 for each additional fighting major in addition to any other penalties assessed.
      3. If a player is deemed to be the instigator in any of the fights above the 10-game threshold, such player would be assessed an automatic four-game suspension in addition to any other penalties assessed.

    Note: If a player is instigated upon, the fighting major is not included in the player’s total number of fights.